Money talks

Film - Home-grown flicks treat kids like adults, and adults like kids, writes Mark Kermode


Advanced screenings of Millions last year provoked bafflement as to how the movie should best be marketed. Was it an offbeat Christmas flick (it has a Yuletide setting), a finan- cial crime caper (the titular millions are sterling pounds soon to be superseded by the euro), a grief-stricken melodrama (the death of a mother haunts the proceedings) or a supernatural fantasy (visions of splendidly earthy saints attend one of the young heroes)?

After much head-scratching, the marketing bods have produced a poster depicting an impish, grinning schoolboy showered in banknotes, with a prominently splashed press quote declaring: "A Danny Boyle film you can take your kids to see." Which is probably the most precise description you will get of this delightfully indefinable and frankly rather bizarre British weirdie.

Based on an ambitiously imaginative script by Frank Cottrell Boyce which owes a tonal debt to the writings of Roald Dahl, Millions enigmatically drops a bag of money on two bereaved brothers and then sets their potential spending spree against the clock as the currency nears the end of its legal tender. Displaying an appropriately childlike devotion to his heavenly mentors, young Damian vows to use the money to help the poor, and promptly starts stuffing anonymous cash gifts through the doors of his needy neighbours - this despite the protests of his older brother Anthony, who is more concerned with the personal acquisition of videophones and GameBoys. Will the kids (brilliantly played by Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon) dispose of their millions before the EU turns their winnings into toilet paper? Or will the police and thieves hot on the trail of the cash bring the boys to their own brands of justice?

Blending stylish urban realism with flights of exotic fantasy, this under- age revisiting of Boyle's Shallow Grave scenario plays like a cross between Ken Loach's Kes and Andrew Davis's Holes, with a dash of Here Come the Double Deckers thrown in for good measure. Imagine the biblical parable of the rich fool and the camel retold for the members of a boisterous youth club by the director of Trainspotting, and you're in vaguely the right thematic ballpark.

Rewardingly, Cottrell Boyce's script doesn't soft-pedal on either the grief or the black humour. Our two heroes learn early on that the phrase "our mum's dead" is an efficient way of extracting favours from guilty grown-ups, whether it be chocolate biscuits or hard cash. There is also something quietly scurrilous about setting the film on the eve of the introduction of the dreaded euro, scaring ageing nationalists in the audience with the spectacle of Britain's dwindling sovereignty. After the bleak chill of Boyle's latter-day zombie romp 28 Days Later, maybe some adults will see Millions as another apocalyptic horror movie after all. As for the kids, they can rejoice that, in these days of infantile Star Wars drivel, some film-makers still see the value of treating 12-year-olds like adults.

While Millions may be far from flawless, it looks like Citizen Kane in comparison with this week's other home-grown offering. It's All Gone Pete Tong is a spoof mocku-mentary about an Ibiza club DJ, Frankie Wilde, who realises his inner vision after battering his eardrums into deafness. The writer-director Michael Dowse admits that the funding, title and location were all in place while "the concept and script were still up in the air", and breezily concedes that hearing loss didn't become an issue until the screenplay was in its third draft.

This arse-about-face production history surely explains the catastrophic incoherence of these post-Human Traffic japes, which veer wildly between rankly outdated pop opportunism (rave culture was sooo 20th century) and clunkily ill-fitting serio-comic satire. One-note performer Paul Kaye resorts to his default setting of rolling eyeballs, gurning expressions and unconvincing cod geezer drawl; presumably he's beginning to regret calling Hugh Grant "wooden" in his previous incarnation as the TV twat Dennis Pennis.

Jaume Collet-Serra's House of Wax is the latest updating of the 1930s hit Mystery of the Wax Museum, memorably remade in the 1950s by the one-eyed director Andre de Toth, who couldn't see its splendid 3D effects. A feature first-timer, Collet-Serra has a 100 per cent advantage in the eye department, but lacks de Toth's nose for dramatic tension. The remake label Dark Castle throws the usual bucket of blood at the screen, with a few nicely nasty set pieces relieving the initial tedium, and a sweltering climactic meltdown injecting some much-needed visual invention. The celebrity slapper Paris Hilton trades heavily on her amateur porn-video past before getting a pole smashed through her forehead - presumably missing her brain by about three feet.